Time to talk – five key telephony considerations for primary care networks
Antoine Lever, Commercial Director of DigitalHealth.London Accelerator company babblevoice, shares five key telephony considerations that can help a newly formed primary care network establish a fit-for-purpose communications system for now and the future.
If you are a practice manager or GP partner, it’s very likely your practice is now part of a primary care network (PCN). A strand of the NHS long-term plan, PCNs aim to bring GP practices together to work at scale and encourage collaboration.
It is also likely that since becoming a PCN, the way you use telephony has changed. Ensuring communications are effective and efficient can play a large part in the success of any collaborative venture. This is particularly relevant to PCNs as they begin to incorporate connections to wider services, such as out of hours. But identifying the best way to meet these needs can be challenging.
We are babblevoice, the provider of a specialist telephony system for GP surgeries, and members of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator Programme. We have been supporting GP practices to improve connections between patients, practice, and staff for over ten years and have experienced the PCN transition alongside many of our customers. We have seen first-hand the deliberations practices have undertaken to best deliver care to their patients.
As such, we have identified five key considerations regarding telephony that can help a newly formed PCN establish a fit-for-purpose communications system for now and the future.
1. Freedom from onerous contracts
PCNs often find they have different telephony providers for different practices. When considering a change of provider, it is wise to look at the contractual small print. In our experience, legacy contracts can include high early termination penalties. And the timing of one contract can be out of sync with another, which makes avoiding penalties impossible.
These tied-in clauses have no place in today’s consumer-led market. Our advice is to work out the minimum penalty to extract yourselves, and then bite the bullet. Ensure that whoever you move to has no minimum term and no exit fees. Get out and stay out!
2. Flexibility across multiple sites
We have found that selecting a flexible system can be highly valuable for a PCN. If you can set up the system to exactly meet the ways of working of your particular PCN, phone calls with patients and staff can fit in seamlessly with other protocols.
Flexibility can be especially helpful if your work covers more than one site. It can enable clinicians to access the practice phone system even when out on patient visits, in other care settings, or working from home.
3. Speed of adaptation
Over time, you may make changes to ways of working. You might change locations, consolidate services, staff may work part of the week for a single surgery, and part for the wider PCN.
Having a system that is purpose-built to enable quick adaptations can save you significant time and cost. And if practice staff can make changes themselves rather than logging change requests with third parties, so much the better. Having access to commands such as re-routing lines, diverting calls for load balancing, and automating transactional calls, can enable swift, effective responses to change.
4. Connection with wider services
PCNs are already incorporating wider community provision, for example, out of hours, and some home-based treatment. This is expected to increase in the future with additional services such as social prescribing.
Most calls for surgeries are in-bound because the majority are patient initiated. But for community services, the opposite is true. Having one common system to carry out both functions, and safely integrate with patient records and other systems is extremely helpful. Smart extension functionality can be key for this purpose, as the need to use personal phone lines is removed. Instead, staff can use their devices to access the system, wherever they are.
5. Identification of cost savings
It is often costly, time-consuming, and inefficient to integrate communications systems. Setting contract termination costs aside, selecting a single system is likely to save money in the long-term. In addition, use of a system with sophisticated reporting can enable the identification of other savings opportunities. Access to telephony data can be highly beneficial to PCN managers, enabling accurate forward planning of aspects such as peak call times.
In summary, significant changes to ways of working such as the formation of a PCN can be an opportunity to review GP surgery comms. The choices can seem complex, but a focus on the individual needs of your practice network and seeking a system that can be tailored to these can yield benefits both now and into the future.
To find out more about PCNs and the wider implications of implementation, take a look at The Kings Fund’s informative ‘PCNs explained’ article: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/primary-care-networks-explained
And if you are considering changing your GP practice’s telephony system, and would like to talk through some options, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
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babblevoice is part of the sixth cohort of the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme.
The DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is a collaborative programme funded by two of London’s Academic Health Science Networks – UCL Partners and the Health Innovation Network, MedCity, CW+ and receives match funding from the European Regional Development Fund.